ROOTSCarmelites take their origin from Mount Carmel on the seacoast of Israel, where the prophet Elijah lived in Old Testament times. Elijah has always been an inspiration to Carmelites on account of his glowing zeal for the Lord God of Hosts. His confidence in God, drew down great miracles in answer to his powerful and persevering prayer. He realized that he lived in the sight and presence of the living God, who spoke to him in the stillness of his retreat.
These are the traits of his timeless appeal to those seeking the contemplative Carmelite way of life.
In the 12th century, hermits, mainly crusaders from Europe, gradually formed a group in Palestine. They lived in caves around a chapel dedicated to Our Lady, coming together for worship, spiritual support, and direction. They were known as the Hermit Brothers of Saint Mary of Mount Carmel.
GROWTHForced to leave the Holy Land in the 13th century, the Hermit Brothers moved to Europe. Adapting their way of life to the urban environment, they became friars, undertaking a spiritual apostolate similar to that of the Franciscans while retaining the spirit of their origins. Later, monasteries were also established in the Order for women.
RENEWALIn the 16th century, in the midst of the turmoil of the Reformation, St. Teresa of Jesus, a Spanish Carmelite drawn by God to a deeper prayer-life, was eventually led by Him to give fresh life and vigour to the contemplative ideal of the Order. Establishing small communities in towns and cities, she created a desert environment for her nuns through a strict form of enclosure, thus providing an atmosphere in which a life of intense prayer could be lived by the whole community.
In a providential encounter with the young friar, St. John of the Cross, Teresa found her closest collaborator. Together they laid the foundations of the Discalced Carmelite Order. Under the protection and in imitation of Our Lady, Carmelites observe the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience in a simple lifestyle supported by silence and solitude, detachment and humility, manual work, sisterly love and service.